In May, Rainer Baake and Jennifer Morgan published an article at Bloomberg recommending German renewables policy to Americans. Craig Morris found the reader comments especially interesting, both in what was said and what was completely left out.
Obviously, it’s hard to explain everything about a country’s energy policy in a single article, but the authors do a pretty good job of getting the big picture across. The knee-jerk reactions of readers in the comments section show how much work still needs to be done.
First, there are the things Americans don’t realize. Most importantly, Germans are switching to renewables owned largely by citizens, not corporations. Ironically, one reader associates Germany with “socialism, big government, central planning, and [a] lack of economic mobility.” In reality, Germans are more wedded to competition and free markets than Americans, and they have freedoms Americans don’t even know they lack. Furthermore, Germans support renewables with feed-in tariffs, which are floor prices, not subsidies.
Then there is the cost issue. Two readers wonder whether the cost of renewable power is 0.35 or 0.52 USD. Here, the figures probably refer to what Germans are currently paying for a kilowatt-hour of renewable electricity funded by feed-in tariffs. Back in 2004, more than 0.50 euros was offered for a kilowatt-hour from newly installed PV arrays for a 20-year term, meaning that those prices will still be paid for power from those systems up to 2023.
But the average price of a green kilowatt-hour is plummeting, with the feed-in tariffs offered for newly installed PV systems dropping to below 0.15 euros in July even for the smallest systems – and the rate will be around 0.10 euros for systems up to 10 megawatts. These rates continue to drop each month for newly installed PV arrays (remember: they are guaranteed for 20 years), and the price of onshore wind power has historically been between five and nine kilowatt-hours. So yes, the price Germans currently pay for green power may seem high, but those rates will continue to drop.
Whether we will reach the following target is a different question: “By 2015, the cost of electricity from a system consisting of wind and solar PV, with backup storage, is expected to be about the same as that of natural gas and coal,” the authors write. They do not provide a calculation, and I’ll save mine for a future blog post. But the statement leads one reader to comment, “When the government subsidies [sic] inevitably dry up, solar and wind will dry up and blow away, too.” In reality, the low price of renewable power is likely to lead to uncontrollable growth unless governments (as in the US) actively try to stop people from reducing their reliance on the grid – and leaving large utility companies sitting on their stranded investments.
One reader points to a VIK press release (in German) arguing that grid interruptions shorter than three minutes should also be tallied. This objection is perfectly reasonable, but it focuses on whether SAIDI should be used as the main indicator of grid reliability. If we are going to count the shortest grid interruptions, then we need to do so in all countries. The outcome will not be any different: Germany simply has one of the most, if not the single most, reliable grid of any industrialized country, with annual downtime roughly equivalent to what Americans are used to in a single month.
Which brings me to my own final comment – and this one goes to the authors themselves. In explaining grid reliability, they refer readers to three long studies as PDFs and do not mention this wonderful chart we made for this website last year. In fact, the authors do not mention us at all, referring readers instead sometimes even back to sources in German where we have provided the same information in English. So guys, do us a favor next time and let the world know that we are working hard here to make German information about the Energiewende available in English, okay?